Tue, 15 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a week in which natural disasters, war and racial conflicts dominated the headlines, Pope Francis prayed that Mary would bring peace to a divided world. After reciting the Angelus prayer on the feast of the Assumption, the pope asked Mary to obtain "for everyone consolation and a future of serenity and harmony." "To Mary, Queen of Peace -- who we contemplate today in the glory of paradise -- I entrust once again the anxieties and sorrows of the people who suffer in many parts of the world due to natural disasters, social tensions or conflicts," the pope told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square Aug. 15. Pope Francis did not name any specific location, but as he spoke, the search for survivors continued in Sierra Leone after a devastating mudslide engulfed the outskirts of the capital, Freetown, killing more than 300 people. Flooding and landslides also struck southern Nepal, killing at least 70 people. In Charlottesville, Virginia, clashes between white nationalists and protesters resulted in the death of three people, including a 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, who was killed Aug. 12 when a car plowed into a group protesting the white nationalist rally. In his main Angelus talk, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading, which recalled Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth. The joy felt by Elizabeth and the child in her womb reflects the interior joy Christians feel in Christ's presence, the pope said. "When Mary arrives, joy overflows and bursts from their hearts because the invisible yet real presence of Jesus fills everything with meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people. Everything!" In response, Mary proclaims the Magnificat, her hymn of praise to God for his great works. Pope Francis said it is the hymn of "humble people, unknown to the world, like Mary, like her husband Joseph as well as the town where they live, Nazareth." God accomplishes "great things with humble people," the pope said, inviting people in St. Peter's Square to reflect on the state of their own humility. "Humility is like an empty space that leaves room for God. A humble person is powerful because he is humble, not because he is strong. This is the greatness of humility," he said. The joy Mary brings because she brings Jesus to the world gives all Christians "a new ability to pass through the most painful and difficult moments with faith" as well as the "ability to be merciful, to forgive, understand and support each other." "Mary is a model of virtue and faith," Pope Francis said. "We ask her to protect and sustain us that we may have a faith that is strong, joyful and merciful. May she help us to become saints, to meet her one day in paradise."
Thu, 10 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The United States and North Korea must return to the negotiating table and focus on improving the quality of life of their people rather than on the might of their advanced weaponry, said a former Vatican diplomat. In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 9, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said that "instead of building walls and creating dissidence or admitting the possibility of recourse to violence," both countries must have a constructive approach that benefits the people. "To arrive at this point, we need to change, in a lot of ways, the public culture and insist and educate that the way forward is not the way of having the latest military technology, but having an approach of inclusion and participation in building the common good of the global human family," the archbishop said. North Korea's nuclear ambitions have led to further isolation and sanctioning by the international community, leading to a war of words with the United States. President Donald Trump vowed that if North Korea continued to threaten the U.S., "they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Angered by the threat, the North Korean government, led by dictator Kim Jong Un, said it is considering firing nuclear-armed missiles at Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific and home to two U.S. military bases. The nuclear threat North Korea poses to the region "creates serious difficulties," Archbishop Tomasi said. However, the U.S. and its allies in the region must continue the path toward an inclusive negotiated solution that places the common good first. "As the Holy Father insists: The way forward is that of dialogue and of including everyone in negotiating -- accommodating as far as possible -- the participation of all the populations and their governments in the search of the common good and of ways of improving the quality of life of the people," the archbishop told Vatican Radio. The threat of nuclear war has also stoked concerns in South Korea, which has technically been at war with its northern neighbor since fighting ended in 1953. In Seoul, South Korea, in a message to Catholics for the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung asked the faithful to pray for Mary's intercession for peace in the Korean peninsula. The Asian Catholic news agency ucanews.com reported Cardinal Yeom also called for an end to the north's nuclear ambitions and a negotiated settlement. He also asked Catholics in the country to pray the rosary "for the conversion of sinners and for peace in the world." "For the safety and the future of all Koreans, North Korea should come to the discussion table and abandon their nuclear weapons," he said.
Thu, 10 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God did not choose perfect people to form his church, but rather sinners who have experienced his love and forgiveness, Pope Francis said. The Gospel of Luke's account of Jesus forgiving the sinful woman shows how his actions went against the general mentality of his time, a way of thinking that saw a "clear separation" between the pure and impure, the pope said Aug. 9 during his weekly general audience. "There were some scribes, those who believed they were perfect," the pope said. "And I think about so many Catholics who think they are perfect and scorn others. This is sad." Continuing his series of audience talks about Christian hope, the pope reflected on Jesus' "scandalous gesture" of forgiving the sinful woman. The woman, he said, was one of many poor women who were visited secretly even by those who denounced them as sinful. Although Jesus' love toward the sick and the marginalized "baffles his contemporaries," it reveals God's heart as the place where suffering men and women can find love, compassion and healing, Pope Francis said. "How many people continue today in a wayward life because they find no one willing to look at them in a different way, with the eyes -- or better yet -- with the heart of God, meaning with hope," he said. But "Jesus sees the possibility of a resurrection even in those who have made so many wrong choices." Oftentimes, the pope continued, Christians become accustomed to having their sins forgiven and receiving God's unconditional love while forgetting the heavy price Jesus paid by dying on the cross. By forgiving sinners, Jesus doesn't seek to free them from a guilty conscience, but rather offers "people who have made mistakes the hope of a new life, a life marked by love," the pope said. The church is a people formed "of sinners who have experienced the mercy and forgiveness of God," Pope Francis said. Christians are "all poor sinners" who need God's mercy, "which strengthens us and gives us hope."
Tue, 08 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Preparing for his visit to Peru in 2018, Pope Francis called on the country's people to follow the example of the Peruvian saints who brought unity amid division. "You have so many saints -- and great saints, who marked Latin America; saints who built the church, that is, from separation to unity," the pope said in the message released by the Archdiocese of Lima Aug. 5. The video message was recorded by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima during a recent visit at the Vatican. The Vatican announced in June that the pope will visit Chile and Peru Jan 15-21. In Chile Jan. 15-18, he is set to visit the cities of Santiago, Temuco and Iquique. He will then fly to Peru and from Jan. 18-21, he will visit Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo. In the video, standing next to a statue of Peru's beloved St. Martin de Porres, the pope noted the country's "wealth of saints" who worked tirelessly to bring "unity to those scattered, which is what Jesus did." "A Christian must follow along that path," the pope said. While some yearning for unity may look to the future "with skepticism and bitterness, a Christian cannot," he added. "A Christian looks forward with hope because he hopes to obtain what the Lord promised." "We will see each other soon," the pope told Peruvians, "but, in the meantime, unity and hope. Work on that."
Mon, 07 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, whom Pope Francis described as one of the Archdiocese of Milan's "most illustrious sons and one of its most loving and beloved pastors," died Aug. 5 at the age of 83. The former archbishop of Milan and prolific writer on themes related to family life and to bioethical issues was described by Italian media as being "small in stature, but big in heart." In an unusually long message of condolence to the people of the archdiocese, Pope Francis said Cardinal Tettamanzi gave a joyful witness to the Gospel and "distinguished himself as an attentive pastor, totally dedicated to the needs and good of his priests and all his faithful." Cardinal Tettamanzi was long considered one of the most authoritative voices in the Italian Catholic Church, and his appointment to the College of Cardinals in 1998 immediately put him near the top of Italian pundits' list of possible future popes. He had served as general secretary of the Italian bishops' conference in the early 1990s, winning a reputation as a wise leader, a negotiator and a pastor in touch with the real problems of society. Born March 14, 1934, in Renato, Italy, near Milan, he began his studies for the priesthood at a minor seminary at the age of 11. He earned a degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood in 1957. His doctoral dissertation focused on "the apostolate of the laity." Returning to Milan, he taught moral theology in the archdiocesan seminary and served as an adviser to the Milan chapter of the Association of Catholic Physicians. In 1987, he was named rector of the Milan archdiocese's seminary in Rome. Two years later, St. John Paul II named him archbishop of Ancona. He led the archdiocese until being nominated general secretary of the bishops' conference in 1991. After four years in that post, St. John Paul named him archbishop of Genoa and, in 2002, appointed him archbishop of Milan. As a priest, bishop and cardinal, he participated as an expert or a member in six meetings of the Synod of Bishops: on the family in 1980, on the laity in 1987, on Europe in 1991 and 1999, on consecrated life in 1994 and again on the family in 2015. He retired as archbishop of Milan in 2011. Cardinal Tettamanzi's death leaves the College of Cardinals with 223 members, 121 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.
Mon, 07 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Summertime can and should be a time for extra prayer, a moment of peace that allows Christians to savor the joy of their relationship with Jesus and find new strength to reach out with love to others, Pope Francis said. Before reciting the Angelus Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, Pope Francis talked about the Gospel story of the disciples going up Mount Tabor with Jesus, "detaching themselves from mundane things" and contemplating the transfigured Lord. Today, too, Christ's disciples need to "rediscover the pacifying and regenerating silence" that comes from prayer and meditating on a Gospel passage. "When we put ourselves in this situation, with the Bible in hand, in silence, we begin to feel this interior beauty, this joy that the word of God generates in us," the pope said. With high temperatures still plaguing Rome and most of southern Europe, many tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square came armed with umbrellas or bought paper parasols from wandering venders outside the square. Pope Francis said he knew the students in the square were in the midst of their summer holidays and many of the other people in the square were on vacation. He told them, "It's important that in the period of rest and breaking away from daily concerns, you restore the energies of your body and soul, deepening your spiritual journey." The disciples who saw Jesus' transfigured, he said, were changed by the event and descended the mountain, back into their daily lives, "with eyes and hearts transfigured by their encounter with the Lord. We, too, can follow this path." An encounter with the Lord, he said, should inspire further steps of conversion and a greater witness of charity. "Transformed by the presence of Christ and by the warmth of his words, we will be a concrete sign of the life-giving love of God for all our brothers and sisters, especially those who suffer, find themselves alone and abandoned, are sick, and for the multitude of men and women who, in different parts of the world, are humiliated by injustice, abuse and violence." Pope Francis prayed that Mary would watch over people on vacation, but also that she would care for "those who cannot take a vacation because they are impeded by age, health or work, by economic difficulties or other problems." Earlier that morning, Pope Francis went to the grotto under St. Peter's Basilica to pray at the tomb of Blessed Paul VI, who died Aug. 6, 1978.
Fri, 04 Aug 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican called on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect the will of the people and respect the nation's current constitution. The Vatican urged Maduro "to suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly, which, rather than fostering reconciliation and peace, encourages a climate of tension and confrontation and mortgages the future," said a statement released Aug. 4 by the Vatican Secretariat of State. Elections for seats on the assembly were held around the country July 30 amid massive protests and international outcry. Maduro's push for the assembly, comprised mainly of his supporters and designed to rewrite the nation's constitution, has led to violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died. The Vatican's statement echoed a declaration made by members of the presiding council of the Venezuelan bishops' conference who condemned the elections as "unconstitutional as well as unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people." "It will be a biased and skewed instrument that will not resolve but rather aggravate the acute problems of the high cost of living and the lack of food and medicine that the people suffer and will worsen the political crisis we currently suffer," the bishops said July 27. Maduro declared victory following the election, claiming high voter turnout. While the government said that 8 million citizens voted in favor of establishing the Constituent Assembly, the company that provided voting machines for the election said the turnout numbers results were tampered with. According to the BBC, Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, announced at a news conference in London July 31 that voter turnout result estimates were falsified by the country's National Electoral Council. The news agency Reuters reported Aug. 2 that it had reviewed official election documents that stated only 3.7 million votes were registered 30 minutes before polls were closed. Two days after the vote, security forces raided the homes of opposition members Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma. Government intelligence officials said both men were arrested for violating the terms of their house arrests, claiming they planned to flee the country after the elections. Expressing concern over the "radicalization and worsening" of the crisis and "the increased number of dead, wounded and detained," the Vatican said Pope Francis was "closely following the situation." The pope "assures his constant prayer for the country and for all Venezuelans, while inviting the faithful around the world to pray intensely for this intention," the Vatican said. The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country. "The Holy See addresses an urgent appeal to the whole society to avoid any form of violence, in particular by inviting the security forces to refrain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force," the Vatican statement said.
Wed, 02 Aug 2017
The sexual abuse of minors by priests received repeated attention throughout the month of July in news stories around the world, often in ways that represented new and different twists in the painful, perennial narrative of the issue. On July 11, the Associated Press reported that Bruce Wellems, a religious priest who had worked with socio-economically disadvantaged young men in Chicago had left the priesthood after admitting to abusing a 7-year-old boy as a teenager. On July 18, investigators in Germany reported that more than 500 boys had been abused between 1945 and the early 1990s at the school that trains the boys’ choir of the Regensburg Cathedral. Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, older brother of Pope Benedict XVI, led the choir from 1964-94. Investigators found that 67 boys were sexually abused by nine school leaders. Msgr. Ratzinger has stated that he was unaware of the severity of the treatment of students. On July 26, Australian Cardinal George Pell, a senior Vatican official, appeared in court in Melbourne to plead not guilty to multiple charges of historical abuse. The highest-ranking churchman ever to be charged, his next court date is in October. On July 28, the notorious Boston ex-priest Paul Shanley was released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence for raping a boy in the 1980s. Taken together, these stories reflect how the Church’s journey toward healing and recovery of trust has not been a straightforward one since the horrors of the crisis came to light in the United States in 2002. Each new revelation, even an historical one — whether from Europe in 2010 or a slow bleed of subsequent meltdowns at national, diocesan and institutional levels — in effect takes the whole Church “back to zero” in terms of public perception. Shifting cultures This impairs the Church’s ability to serve its mission, said Teresa Kettelkamp, who currently is staffing the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in Rome, a body established by Pope Francis in 2014 and led by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap, of Boston. “The clergy abuse crisis has so hurt the credibility of the Church that it has hurt its ability to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. And that’s why it’s imperative for the Church to get her voice back,” Kettelkamp told Our Sunday Visitor. A veteran of the Illinois State Police who served as executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Child and Youth Protection office from 2005-11, Kettelkamp is now serving two of the six working groups of the pontifical commission, which will complete its three-year mandate in September by making recommendations to the pope in areas such as healing and care, guidelines, education, formation, and canon and civil norms. Whatever decisions he makes will stand alongside his earlier moves on this issue, which include putting in place measures to remove bishops who have fallen short in their responses. In all, the pontifical commission is working to effect a culture shift on a global scale. If that simply looks like getting every diocese on earth up to speed with the measures the U.S. bishops have been implementing since 2002 (see sidebar), Kettelkamp sees that as a critical step in countering a pervasive societal ill. The global view The globe-spanning challenge of implementing an effective abuse response is evident in a new program at the Gregorian University in Rome, the diploma in safeguarding minors, an effort of the university’s Center for Child Protection under the leadership of Jesuit Father Hans Zollner. Its second cohort of students, which met for five months in the first half of 2017, included Drew Dillingham, coordinator for resources and special projects in the USCCB Child and Youth Protection office. Dillingham, 27, was the only American in a cohort dominated by people from the developing world, often sent by their bishop. “And they were charged with going back to their archdioceses, their dioceses or their religious order and training ...
Thu, 27 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No matter the position one takes on national migration policy, Pope Francis, Caritas Internationalis and national Catholic charities across the globe want Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to his or her story. In late September, Pope Francis will launch the "Share the Journey" campaign, a two-year program of Caritas Internationalis to promote encounters between people on the move and people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving in. Meeting migrants and refugees and listening to their stories -- and having them listen to the stories of people in their host communities -- mean the walls people have erected in their minds and hearts should begin to fall, said Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis. "You may be afraid of migrants as a large group of people coming in, but when you meet a migrant, then you have a different vision," he said July 27. Listening to their stories makes it clear that "they are human beings, they are human beings who have suffered much; they've left a situation where they could not live anymore because of violence, conflict or just because of misery." "Once you understand the story of the person, then you will have a different attitude," he said. Most people who vote for political parties espousing anti-immigrant sentiments, Roy believes, "have never met a migrant," which makes it easy for politicians to convince them that they have something to fear. Even if the person does not change their mind about the most appropriate political policies for regulating migration, he said, it is necessary to make the fear subside by helping folks get to know the real people who have left all behind because of persecution, violence or extreme poverty. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, wrote a letter in late June asking members of the Caritas federation to participate in the campaign. He said, "One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as individuals, communities and countries at this time of mass movements of people and global doubt is 'Do I allow fear to prevail in my heart, or do I allow hope to reign?' "Through 'Share the Journey' we hope to dispel fear and understand why so many people are leaving their homes at this time in history," the cardinal wrote. "We also want to inspire communities to build relationships with refugees and migrants. We want to shine a light and lead the way. Migration is a very old story but our campaign aims to help communities see it with new eyes and an open heart." The "Share the Journey" campaign will run at least until 2019. The U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, as well as more than 160 other Caritas members around the world, will be sponsoring national and local events to provide opportunities for migrants and members of host communities to meet and share their stories. Through his words and, especially, his gestures, Pope Francis "is inviting everyone on earth to be welcoming" and to protect migrants and help them integrate into the society of their new countries, Roy said. As a central institution of the church, he added, Caritas Internationalis promotes what Pope Francis is asking all Catholics to do. "Catholics are not all convinced that we have to welcome migrants," the secretary general acknowledged, "so I think we have work to do within the church itself." But, he said, the pope is asking "everyone to make a step," and Caritas hopes that will begin with every Catholic being willing to meet a migrant or refugee.
Thu, 27 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Peace and an end to violent conflicts around the world should be placed above any national interests when it comes to the relationship between Western countries and Russia, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said. Ahead of his visit to Russia at the end of August, the Vatican secretary of state said that differences between Russia and the West are often highlighted "as if they were different worlds, each with their own values, their own interests, a national or transnational pride, and even their own concept of international law to oppose others." "The effort to understand each other does not mean the yielding of one to the position of the other. It is rather a patient, constructive, frank, and at the same time, respectful dialogue," Cardinal Parolin said in an interview with Il Regno, an Italian Catholic magazine, published July 27. Calm, persistent efforts to promote understanding, he said, are "even more important on the questions which are at the origin of current conflicts and on those that risk provoking a further increase in tension." While recently "there has been a period of uncertainty" regarding Russia's position on various issues, including on Syria, Cardinal Parolin said efforts to reach mutual understanding and discovering solutions to various world crises should "be placed above any national or, in any case, partisan interest." The Holy See, he added, will continue to encourage Russia and Western countries to engage in respectful dialogue instead of indulging in special interests which are a characteristic of "this age of a return to nationalisms" that distracts from averting "the possibility of catastrophe." "I am convinced that it is part of the Holy See's mission to insist on this aspect," Cardinal Parolin said. The interviewer also asked the cardinal about the Holy See's view of President Donald Trump. Cardinal Parolin said that the Trump administration is "so different and unique" that it will need "time to find its own balance." As for the Vatican's view of his presidency, "time is needed to judge; you cannot be in a rush," he said. "Any judgment now is hurried, even if sometimes the show of uncertainty itself can surprise." However, Cardinal Parolin expressed his hope that the United States and other countries will not change course "from their international responsibilities" on important global issues, especially the commitment to addressing climate change. "Reducing global warming means saving the common home in which we all live and reducing the inequalities and poverty that the warming of the planet continues to produce," he said.
Wed, 26 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The martyrdom of a French priest killed a year ago while celebrating Mass was an event that "has transformed me as a bishop," Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen said. Father Jacques Hamel's life -- "simple and exemplary -- questions me as a pastor and shepherd on how to consider the life of priests, on what I expect from them in terms of efficiency. I must tirelessly convert, to pass from this request for efficiency to admiration for their fruitfulness," the archbishop said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Father Hamel was murdered July 26, 2016, when two men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed his parish church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Father Hamel's throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Witnesses say that in his final moments, the beloved 85-year-old parish priest tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying "go away, Satan." Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation. Despite the violent nature of Father Hamel's death at the hands of terrorists claiming to be Muslims, his martyrdom instead has drawn the Catholic and Muslim communities in the diocese closer together, Archbishop Lebrun said. "This tragic event shared by others has brought me closer to the local society in its diverse components: naturally to the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and then to the other municipalities in the area," the archbishop said. "And from now on, I am bound to the Muslim community and to the other communities of believers in the territory of my diocese." Father Hamel's martyrdom drew the attention of Pope Francis who celebrated a memorial Mass for him Sept. 14, 2016, with Archbishop Lebrun, Roselyne Hamel, Father Hamel's sister, and 80 pilgrims from the diocese. When Archbishop Lebrun presented the pope with a photo of Father Hamel, the pope asked him to place it on the altar and after the Mass told the archbishop, "You can put this photo in the church because he is 'blessed' now, and if anyone says you aren't allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission." Archbishop Lebrun told L'Osservatore Romano that he then spoke with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, regarding the opening of Father Hamel's sainthood cause and the possibility of accelerating "the process to take advantage of the elements of proof which are the testimonies of the other victims of the attack, who are mainly elderly." The first meeting in the process for Father Hamel's sainthood cause took place May 20, and the results of the local investigation into his life should be completed and ready for Vatican review from one to three years from now, the archbishop said. Meanwhile, Father Hamel's life and martyrdom remains "an extremely powerful event" that has united the diocese, priests, the church in France, people within the territory and the Muslim community, Archbishop Lebrun said. "Father Hamel has sown peace," he said.
Wed, 26 Jul 2017
The cardinals who elected Pope Francis gave him a mandate to reform Vatican finances, which had been the scene of obscure turf wars, accusations and scandals. This brought renewed focus to the work of René Brülhart, the president of the Vatican Financial Information Authority (AIF), a body established by Pope Benedict XVI to reform the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), commonly referred to as the Vatican Bank. It is said that Pope Francis had considered closing the IOR but then decided it was needed, provided it was reformed. Decades of acting as a financial haven for drug traffickers, tax evaders and the mafia threatened to shutter the bank for good, but for the past five years, Brülhart has been responsible for drawing the IOR out of its Dark Ages practices and into the transparent light of the 21st century. Brülhart has been called the “James Bond of international finance.” The former Swiss banker has worked with governments and international bodies to fight money laundering and the funding of terrorism, and he helped locate the assets Saddam Hussein had squirreled away in Jordan in 2003. In 2012 he was appointed as head of the AIF shortly after Pope Benedict XVI agreed to conform the Vatican to the Council of Europe’s standards of transparency. Pope Francis reinforced the autonomy and powers of AIF. There was a crisis shortly after Brülhart’s arrival in Rome. At the peak of the tourist season, the Italian central bank, the Banca d’Italia , blocked all the Vatican’s credit-card machines, which were run by Deutsche Bank Italy. This was because the Italian authorities suspected the Vatican of financial irregularities. It was inconvenient for Vatican residents and tourists but also damaging for the Vatican’s reputation. What was predicted to be a blockage of a day or two lasted six weeks. Brülhart contributed to finding a solution by replacing Deutsche Bank with a Swiss institution that operates under an equivalent system pursuant to European Union regulations. He believes the Vatican has a responsibility to Catholics to say what it is doing with money that is partly supplied by them. His background helped him connect the Vatican with the Egmont Group, a multinational financial information-sharing organization. In 2016 there were 837 international information exchanges. This input helps AIF to decide whether an operation is suspected of crimes such as money laundering, serious tax evasion, corruption or embezzlement. Figures tell the story: In 2012 there were 12 exchanges of financial information with other institutions, but there were more than 1,500 exchanges by 2016. In 2011 and 2012, seven cases of suspicious activity had been spotted, whereas from 2013 until today there were more than a thousand. In addition, more than 5,000 out of some 30,000 accounts have been closed. Some were dormant — the owners had died or could not be located — but others were suspect. Our Sunday Visitor spoke with Brülhart about the Vatican Bank. Our Sunday Visitor: There are accusations that Freemasons and mafiosi were able to use some accounts to launder money. René Brülhart: Maybe you have more information about such things than me. ... With the introduction of the new legal framework to fight financial crimes, the IOR is a tighter operation now, and it has returned to its original aim of serving the Church globally. OSV: Identifying suspect operations is important, but is there a follow-up, a prosecution of those which are illegal? Brülhart: Those which AIF finds are dicey are sent to the Office of the Promoter of Justice, headed by Professor Gian Piero Milano. OSV: How many cases have you sent to him? Brülhart: In the last five years, AIF has forwarded 56 reports. OSV: Have there been sentences, fines, seizure of illegal assets? Brülhart: Several prosecutions have been initiated in the last few years, the most recent of them just a few days ago. However, you have to keep in mind that it is a new system, and it needs time. OSV: Isn’t ...
Tue, 25 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While Rome reels from one of its worst droughts in decades, the Vatican is doing its part to conserve water by shutting down the city-state's 100 fountains. The office governing Vatican City State announced July 25 that the drought has "led the Holy See to take measures aimed at saving water" by shutting down fountains in St. Peter's Square, throughout the Vatican Gardens and in the territory of the state. "The decision is in line with the teachings of Pope Francis, who reminds us in his encyclical 'Laudato Si'' how 'the habit of wasting and discarding' has reached 'unprecedented levels' while 'fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,'" the office said. The prolonged drought has forced officials from the Lazio region of Italy to halt pumping water from Lake Bracciano, located roughly 19 miles north of Rome. Less than usual rainfalls in the past two years have steadily depleted the lake, which provides 8 percent of the city's water supply. In an interview with Italian news outlet Tgcom24, Nicola Zingaretti, the region's president, said the lake's water level has "fallen too much and we risk an environmental disaster." While the drought already forced Rome city officials to shut down some of Rome's public drinking fountains in June, it may lead to strict water rationing for the city's estimated 1.5 million residents. City officials may also take the Vatican's lead and shut down water pouring down from Rome's many ancient fountains. Pilgrims and visitors alike have marveled at the majestic fountains of St. Peter's Square that have cascaded water for centuries since their construction in the 17th century. While the source of water was once provided from an ancient Roman aqueduct, the two fountains, as well as 10 percent of Vatican City State's 100 fountains "recirculate water currently," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service in a July 25 email. Others, he added, "will eventually be transformed in order to recirculate" the same water rather than let it be wasted by running into the drainage or sewer system. Burke told CNS that the Vatican's move to switch off the fountains located within its territory is "a way to show a good example" in conserving water as the city deals with the crisis. "We're not going to be able to solve Rome's water problem this summer, but we can do our part," Burke said. "This is the Vatican putting 'Laudato Si'' into action. Let's not waste water."
Mon, 24 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land to "moderation and dialogue" as tensions continued around a key site in Jerusalem that is sacred to members of both faiths. After reciting the Angelus July 23, the pope asked people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the midday prayer to join him in asking the Lord to inspire reconciliation and peace in the region. Tensions in Jerusalem have been high since July 14 when three Israeli Arabs armed with knives and guns killed two Israeli police officers at an entrance to the site the Jews call Temple Mount and the Muslims call Haram al-Sharif. The site includes the Western Wall and Al Aqsa mosque. In his main Angelus talk, Pope Francis spoke about the parable of the weeds among the wheat from the Sunday Gospel reading. The farmer in the parable from the Gospel of Matthew tells his workers not to pull up all the weeds because they might uproot the wheat, but to wait until the harvest when the wheat and weeds can be separated. "With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them and eradicate all the evil -- only God can do that," the pope said. Human beings are called to the "difficult exercise of discernment" in choosing between good and what is evil, he said, and when they fail -- which all people do sometimes -- the church stands ready to help with the grace of baptism and of confession. Like the farmer in the parable, the pope said, God calls Christians to be patient as they await the harvest. "Patience means preferring a church that is leaven in the dough, that is not afraid of getting its hands dirty washing the clothes of its children, rather than being a church of the 'pure,' who insist on judging beforehand who is in the kingdom of God and who isn't."
Thu, 20 Jul 2017
LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- When Pope Francis visits Colombia in September, he will take his message of mercy and reconciliation to Cartagena, a city that still bears scars of its painful history as a slave port. And he will walk the streets where another Jesuit, St. Peter Claver, put that message into practice four centuries ago. Canonized in 1888, St. Peter Claver is now considered the patron saint of human rights in Colombia. But although the country abolished slavery in 1851 and passed a law prohibiting discrimination in 1993, racism persists. Many Afro-Colombians in Cartagena, the "children of children of children of slaves ... often remain marginalized, abandoned by the government," said Father Jorge Hernandez, who works with Afro-Colombian communities in and around the city. "In some neighborhoods, people don't have running water. Inhumanity has become natural." The same is true in other Latin American countries. Although about half the population of Brazil is of African descent, Afro-Brazilians make up a disproportionate share of the poor population, according to the 2010 census. Their salaries averaged one-half to one-third those of white Brazilians. On his last day in Colombia, Sept. 10, Pope Francis will pray the Angelus outside of the sanctuary of St. Peter Claver. The building where the missionary welcomed slaves, and which now houses the saint's relics, has also served as a school and a hospital. After private prayer time in the sanctuary, the pontiff will meet with fellow Jesuits. Some people wonder if Pope Francis will ask forgiveness for the church's long acceptance of the slave trade in the Americas. Father Hernandez said he hopes the pope will speak out against modern forms of slavery, including human trafficking and slavery to money and a consumer society. The pope's visit to Cartagena will quietly highlight the persistent inequality in Latin America, which has some of the highest income disparities in the world. Tourists flock to the Caribbean city's beach resorts, which contrast sharply with the poverty in which most of the city's large Afro-Colombian population still lives, said Father Carlos Eduardo Correa, provincial superior of the Jesuits in Colombia. "In Colombia, there are still many human rights violations, especially of Afro-Colombian, indigenous and poor communities, particularly in cultural, economic, social and environmental rights, and rights to education, health and work," Father Correa said. By the time the young Peter Claver arrived in Cartagena from Spain in 1610, the slave trade was already booming. More than 78,000 African slaves arrived between 1570 and 1640 -- some 10,000 a year. By some accounts, slaves made up half the population of Cartagena at the time. After five years of studies in Bogota, he returned to Cartagena, where he was ordained in 1616. Referring to himself as "the slave of slaves," he joined another Jesuit, Father Alonso de Sandoval, who was outspoken about the injustice of slavery, and continued that ministry after his companion was transferred to Peru in 1617. At a time when the Catholic Church did not speak out against enslavement of Africans in the Spanish colonies, and when even some Jesuit superiors criticized his ministry, Father Claver cajoled alms from wealthy residents of the city and used them to buy food and medicine. He met the traffickers' ships at the port, going first to aid children and the sick with the help of slaves he knew in Cartagena, who spoke the new arrivals' languages. His labor of humanitarian care and catechesis continued in the squalid houses where traders housed the slaves until they were sold or shipped to another port. Pope Francis' visit to the place where St. Peter Claver lived, worked and finally died in 1654, after suffering the same diseases that afflicted the people to whom he ministered, will be a reminder that human rights are crucial for the country's peace process after decades of civil war. Peace and reconciliation, Father Correa ...
Wed, 19 Jul 2017
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi cited Apple founder Steve Jobs, saying that technology must be welded to humanism, at a recent Rome conference on ethics and artificial intelligence (AI). He was responding to Daniele Mancini, the Italian ambassador to the Holy See, who had opened the discussion by comparing humans, faced by a tsunami of technology, to a surfer in precarious balance on a surfboard. Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Mancini together organized the conference as a lecture in the Vatican’s Courtyard of the Gentiles series, which brings Catholic and non-Catholic leaders together to discuss issues affecting both the Church and the modern world. The Pontifical Council organizes discussions, and this time it was in the Borromeo Palace, which in the 16th century was built as an out-of-town residence for Pope Pius IV and since 1929 has been the Italian Embassy to the Holy See. The setting was historic, but the focus was on the future, which seems glorious to some but to others causes confusion and even fright. It is a future increasingly molded by AI, although the debates that AI will cause have already begun to creep into the present. The European Parliament is discussing laws about robots that would make them legally electronic persons who make autonomous decisions. The European bishops have objected to this since this would place robots on the same level as human persons. Brave new world The subject is vast because AI will increasingly affect almost all spheres of our society, from our daily life, work, privacy and national security to our concept of creation and what it is to be human. Our computers will be talking to us, smiling humanoids will be driving trucks and winning marathons, and online programs will be writing pop songs and even learning from experience. At least that is the promise — or the threat. The Rome conference did not aim to tackle all these issues but to spur discussions on AI between Catholics and others. One of the key speakers was Luciano Folidi, a professor of philosophy and information at Oxford University and an ethics adviser for large technology companies. However, this doesn’t stop him from being wary of the power of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, or criticizing politicians for allowing the internet, the web and social media to acquire huge influence without imposing appropriate rules. He warns that the current delegation of infosphere control to corporations could have disastrous socio-political and cultural results. Their control over internet data allows our knowledge and awareness to be transformed into quarterly marketing strategies and predictive analytics that inevitably prioritize the short-term profit over the long-term consequences. The second main speaker, Sebastiano Maffettone, a professor of political philosophy at LUISS, a university in Rome, likewise deplored politicians’ failure to understand and govern the complex issues raised by AI. He claimed that its “dematerialization” of reality encouraged fake news, post-truth understandings and emotional rather than rational discussions. Forced Retirement Advances in artificial intelligence may one day cause workers to be replaced with more efficient robots. Here is a timeline, based on a survey of AI researchers distributed by Katja Grace along with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, of the predicted year when AI-controlled technology will be capable of performing the following tasks: ◗ 2020: Play poker well enough to win the World Series of Poker ◗ 2022: Fold laundry better than the average clothing store employee ◗ 2024: Translate spoken language ◗ 2026: Write a high school essay ◗ 2027: Drive cars/trucks ◗ 2027: Generate a Top 40 pop song ◗ 2028: Beat the fastest runner in the world in a 5-km race in a city (as a bipedal robot) ◗ 2031: Perform retail work ◗ 2049: Write a New York Times bestselling novel ◗ 2053: Perform surgery ◗ 2059: Perform math research ◗ 2061: Outperform humans in ...
Wed, 12 Jul 2017
Four-and-a-half years after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in the hope that a younger and “more energetic” successor might be able to renew the culture of the Vatican, recent events indicate that reform of the Roman Curia may take longer than he had hoped. In addition to institutional inertia, the process has been hampered by divisions among high-ranking churchmen over the proper interpretation of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), the pope’s governing style and an internet culture in which no conspiracy theory goes unstated. CDF shake-up On June 30, rumors began to circulate that Pope Francis would break with tradition and decline to renew, or at least to extend, the five-year term of 69-year-old German Cardinal Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The official announcement came the following day, July 1, when the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis had chosen Spanish Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Jesuit theologian who had served as secretary of that dicastery since his 2008 appointment by Pope Benedict, to replace Cardinal Müller. Cardinal Müller has confirmed that he will retire rather than take another position. Cardinal Müller, who was appointed by Pope Benedict in July 2012, was the first sitting Vatican official Pope Francis asked to remain in office after his election in March 2013. In 2014, he was among the first group of men elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis. The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also is responsible for investigating clergy accused of sexually abusing minors. As part of his response to this issue, Pope Francis created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014. In March of this year, Marie Collins, one of the commission’s founding members and the last remaining abuse survivor among its membership, cited resistance within the Roman Curia to implementing the commission’s recommendations. She singled out Cardinal Müller in her criticism. There were also reports of tensions directly between the pope and his inherited enforcer of doctrine, dating back to months after Pope Francis’ election, tensions which grew after the release of Amoris Laetitia in April 2016. Cardinal Müller publicly defended the document, such as in a January Italian TV interview in which he said there is no opposition between the Church’s teaching on marriage and the obligation of the Church to care for people in difficult situations, dismissing the idea that the pope had jeopardized Church teaching. But he had reportedly revealed at the Curia’s spiritual retreat in 2016 that the CDF had submitted 200 queries concerning the draft text of Amoris Laetitia , none of which were addressed before the final version of the apostolic exhortation was released. Some of those queries concerned passages in the eighth chapter of Amoris Laetitia that have become the subject of controversy, most publicly in the formal request for clarification on five questions (or dubia) made by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner on Sept. 19, 2016, to Pope Francis and Cardinal Müller. To date, no response to the request has been made by the CDF or the pope. In June, the four cardinals said publicly that they had requested an audience with Pope Francis in May but had not received a response. In early July, Cardinal Müller told the German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse that his dismissal as prefect had “particularly upset” the 83-year-old German Cardinal Meisner, with whom Cardinal Müller spoke at length on the evening of July 4. A few hours later, Cardinal Meisner died while praying his breviary, spawning speculation online that the shock of Cardinal Müller’s dismissal had played a role in his death. The dismissal “moved and hurt [Cardinal Meisner] personally. He thought it would harm the Church,” Cardinal Müller said. “That naturally speaks for me.” ...
Tue, 11 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has approved a fourth pathway to possible sainthood -- giving one's life in a heroic act of loving service to others. In a new apostolic letter, the pope approved new norms allowing for candidates to be considered for sainthood because of the heroic way they freely risked their lives and died prematurely because of "an extreme act of charity." The document, given "motu proprio" (on his own initiative) went into effect the same day of its publication July 11, with the title "Maiorem hac dilectionem," which comes from the Gospel according to St. John (15:13): "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, said the addition is meant "to promote heroic Christian testimony, (that has been) up to now without a specific process, precisely because it did not completely fit within the case of martyrdom or heroic virtues." For centuries, consideration for the sainthood process required that a Servant of God heroically lived a life of Christian virtues or had been martyred for the faith. The third, less common way, is called an equivalent or equipollent canonization: when there is evidence of strong devotion among the faithful to a holy man or woman, the pope can waive a lengthy formal canonical investigation and can authorize their veneration as saints. While these three roads to sainthood remain unchanged, they were not adequate "for interpreting all possible cases" of holiness, the archbishop wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, July 11. According to the apostolic letter, any causes for beatification according to the new pathway of "offering of life" would have to meet the following criteria: -- Free and willing offer of one's life and a heroic acceptance, out of love, of a certain and early death; the heroic act of charity and the premature death are connected. -- Evidence of having lived out the Christian virtues -- at least in an ordinary, and not necessarily heroic, way -- before having offered one's life to others and until one's death. -- Evidence of a reputation for holiness, at least after death. -- A miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession is needed for beatification. Archbishop Bartolucci wrote that the new norms arise from the sainthood congregation wanting to look into the question of whether men and women who, "inspired by Christ's example, freely and willingly offered and sacrificed their life" for others "in a supreme act of charity, which was the direct cause of death," were worthy of beatification. For example, throughout history there have been Christians who willingly put themselves at risk and died of infection or disease because of aiding and serving others, he wrote. Pope Francis approved the congregation carrying out an in-depth study of the new proposal in early 2014, the archbishop wrote. After extensive input, discussion and the work of experts, the cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes approved in 2016 "a new pathway for beatification of those who offered their lives with explicit and recognized Christian" reasons. Archbishop Bartolucci wrote that the new provisions do nothing to alter church doctrine concerning Christian holiness leading to sainthood and the traditional procedure for beatification. Rather, the addition offers an enrichment, he wrote, with "new horizons and opportunities for the edification of the people of God, who, in their saints, see the face of Christ, the presence of God in history and the exemplary implementation of the Gospel."
Mon, 10 Jul 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishops should look at ways to help verify and guarantee the validity and worthiness of the bread and wine used for the celebration of the Eucharist, the Vatican said in a recent document. Because bread and wine for the Eucharist are no longer supplied just by religious communities, but "are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet," bishops should set up guidelines, an oversight body and/or even a form of certification to help "remove any doubt about the validity of the matter for the Eucharist," the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said. The recommendations came in a circular letter, "On the bread and wine for the Eucharist," sent to diocesan bishops "at the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis." Dated June 15 -- the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ -- the letter was made public by the Vatican July 8. The letter was signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, congregation prefect, and Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary. Because the church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments, the congregation offered some suggestions so that bishops can continue to "watch over the quality of the bread and wine" as well as "those who prepare these materials." The congregation underlined that every bishop "is bound to remind priests, especially parish priests and rectors of churches, of their responsibility to verify those who provide the bread and wine for the celebration and the worthiness of the material." Bishops must also provide information to the producers of the bread and wine for the Eucharist and to remind them of the absolute respect that is due to the norms," it said. Producers "must be aware that their work is directed toward the eucharistic sacrifice and that this demands their honesty, responsibility and competence," it added. The congregation suggested ordinaries offer guidance, for example, by "guaranteeing the eucharistic matter through special certification." Bishops may want to agree on and establish "concrete regulations" on the national level through their bishops' conferences, it suggested. "Given the complexity of situations and circumstances, such as a decrease in respect for the sacred, it may be useful to mandate a competent authority to have oversight in actually guaranteeing the genuineness of the eucharistic matter by producers as well as those responsible for its distribution and sale," the Vatican congregation wrote. A competent authority, for example, could be "one or more religious congregations or another body capable of carrying out the necessary checks on production, conservation and sale of the eucharistic bread and wine in a given country and for other countries to which they are exported," it wrote. The letter also reiterated norms already in place regarding eucharistic matter: -- "The bread used in the celebration of the most holy eucharistic sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition." -- Bread made from another substance, even grain or mixed with another substance so different from wheat that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, "does not constitute valid matter." -- The introduction of any other substances, "such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist," it said, "is a grave abuse." -- Low-gluten hosts are valid matter for people who, "for varying and grave reasons, cannot consume bread made in the usual manner," provided the hosts "contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread." -- Completely gluten-free hosts continue to be "invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist." -- Wine used in the celebration of the eucharistic "must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other ...
Mon, 10 Jul 2017
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican press office, and Pope John Paul II were perfectly matched. Before his Vatican appointment, Navarro-Valls had the desk next to mine at the Rome Foreign Press Club. He was a courteous, handsome hidalgo. As president of the Foreign Press Club in 1984, he gave a welcoming speech to Pope St. John Paul II during an audience for the press. Later, he received an invitation to lunch with the pope, who asked what he would suggest to improve Vatican communications. As Navarro-Valls recalled it, he answered, “Nothing less than a revolution.” At that same meeting John Paul asked whether Navarro-Valls was prepared to take over the Vatican press office. Navarro-Valls responded that he would like time to think it over. He had in mind three months. “Of course” said John Paul. “Let me know tomorrow morning.” “You can’t say no to a pope.“ Navarro Valls commented later. Big wins The Foreign Press Club held a tennis tournament shortly before Navarro-Valls shifted to the Vatican. As a player, he was stylish as in other things, but he may have been a bit rusty. After a close match I beat him, on the final point passing him with a forehand as he came to the net. He paid me a nice compliment: “That forehand is worthy of John Newcombe.” I mentioned my victory in a newspaper article about his Vatican appointment. “How could you mention that?” he reproved me. I had found mentioning it easy and good for both of us. My only uncertainty was whether I would have mentioned it if I had lost. He had a succession of big wins at the Vatican. Rather than just director of the Vatican press office, he became John Paul II’s spokesman. Almost daily he met with the pope, who gave him a free hand in presenting the pope to the world. He had good material: John Paul was a monumental world figure who successfully fought the good fight against Soviet Communism. Navarro-Valls was by John Paul’s side during the majority of this fight, helping to heighten the beloved pope’s international appeal and spread his message. The Vatican press office The Vatican had never seen anything like this duo. An office to deal directly with journalists had been established within the Vatican daily, L’Osservaotre Romano, in 1939. The office was originally inside the walled Vatican, but the Second Vatican Council changed the location of the daily briefings due to the huge media interest it aroused. The briefings were subsequently held in a building on the street leading to St. Peter’s Square, and in 1966 this became the present press office. Born in Catagena, Spain, one of five children of a lawyer, Navarro-Valls qualified as a doctor in 1961 but won a scholarship which took him to Harvard university for further medical and then psychiatric studies. After his return to Spain, he received a degree in journalism and, after various overseas missions, arrived in Rome in the 1970s. The Roman curia tried to curb his initiatives after he took over the press office in 1984, but he had the pope’s backing. Not only did he become a frequent flyer for the faith with John Paul on his offical papal trips but accompanied him on his holidays in the Italian Alps. Navarro-Valls had a direct role in many big stories. John Paul’s 1998 trip to Cuba was probably the result of a continuous Church presence in the Communist state, but Navarro-Valls claimed to have had an all-night session talking (or was it listening?) to Fidel Castro about everything, including the possibility of life on other planets, that ultimately swayed the dicatator. He certainly had a key role in John Paul’s last months. He broke with the custom that popes-are-never-sick-until-they-are-dead by issuing precise reports on John Paul’s state of health, during which his medical knowledge came into play. ‘Grace under pressure’ Along with his role as spokesman, John Paul formed Navarro-Valls into a dimplomat of sorts: he was put in the Vatican delegation for international conferences in Cairo, ...